It has not been a strong month for the general market, nor for our humble portfolio. Our stocks have lost more than 20%, while the Nasdaq has dropped 15% and the S&P 10%. Why, looky there! The Nasdaq and the S&P 500 are running neck and neck since we started this portfolio in mid-1994. Seems like just a year ago that the Nasdaq had brought more than twice the return of the S&P 500. How times have changed.
We can all blame that nasty man Greenspan for not doing as he was told. He had the audacity earlier this week to cut the Federal funds rate by 50 basis points rather than the 75 Wall Street demanded. What a jerk. How dare he be more concerned about inflation and the general economy than today's market movements! Doesn't he know that immediate gratification is better than long-term health? Doesn't he realize that McDonald's (NYSE: MCD) is much more popular than The Salad Shack? Know your customers, dude.
He's obviously short the market.
The more superstitious of you may be inclined to think that The Inevitable is the source of this month's downturn. It's an old truism that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. From this perspective, the outlook is good. Sure, the first part of the month is tough, but the seasons have changed and the flowers will start blooming any day now. The market will follow suit.
This kind of quaint, Poor-Richard's-Almanack thinking may have had some validity in the past, but, sorry folks, this is the Age of Reason. Precise, scientific studies, such as this one performed by Mrs. Filer's first-grade class, have called the old saw into question. Sure, there's a little lamb on the last day of March, but look at all those voracious lions leading up to it! I don't want to be on the receiving end of those jaws. I'm piling into gold, but quick. Call me when the lambs roam free once more.
Actually, and this is the honest truth, I'm delighted with the way the market's going. It is so much better for investors with a long time horizon that the market drop, drop, drop until it can't drop no more now rather than later. I, as a net buyer, would much rather buy great companies at lower prices than higher. We're finally getting to the point where a fine brand like Palm (Nasdaq: PALM) is available at something close to an arguably reasonable price. That's nothing but good for investors, unless you had to sell Palm last week to make some bogus gun-running rap go away. (They can't prove prior knowledge that they were under the floorboard. It wasn't even my car!)
I know it doesn't feel like a good thing now, but this market downpour will ready the ground for future planting. Embrace it.
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Prices are lower now and may be even lower in the future, but that doesn't relieve us of our duty to keep an eye on our holdings. Earlier this week, Tom Jacobs offered the low-down on our biotech stocks. I'll catch you up on some other portfolio news.
The Wall Street Journal reported that AOL Time Warner (NYSE: AOL) increased its European subscriber growth by 40% to 4.6 million in the last year. That was better than some free counterparts but slower than Deutche Telekom's T-Online International, which has 70% more members. Still, AOL's American connections seem to be helping, not hurting, marketing efforts. This is a ridiculously small part of the total company right now, but it's good news in tough times.
AOL also bought 55% of AOL France from Vivendi (NYSE: V) for $725 million in preferred stock, which it will redeem for cash in 2003. AOL says they got a great stock at a buyer's price, though they paid about 50% more per subscriber than T-Online's current value reflects. It is a sign, anyway, that AOL is serious about the European market.
Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) announced a 2-for-1 stock split on Tuesday. I know that's not really "news," in the sense that it's not at all relevant to the company. I mention it only because it's so silly. The stock was trading at about $44 when the split was announced. That brings us down to $22. Reasonable people could argue that the stock may well suffer near-term losses, since it's still trading at a high P/E multiple. Why risk single digits? The only reason Howard Schultz offered was "There is nothing more gratifying than sharing the Company's success with our shareholders."
Right, Howard. I share your success by more easily buying round lots. Whatever.
Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) got hit with several shareholder lawsuits this week. Lots of reasons for shareholder displeasure were cited, but the common theme was Amazon Commerce Network revenue. This is the money Amazon was to make from its retail partners such as Living.com and Ashford.com. In its 1999 year-end earnings announcement, Amazon said, "These partnerships represent more than $500 million in revenue commitments to Amazon.com over the next five years."
Lots of folks took that to mean $500 million in cash, guaranteed. What it apparently meant, though, was payment mostly in stock, subject to contingencies. What actually happened was that Amazon incurred massive losses in less than a year on its investments in ACN partners, many of which no longer operate.
It's not a frivolous argument, though litigation on such matters is not my style. It is one of the things, however, that makes me question Amazon's management. But that's another story.
Ah, eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY). Not much new to say here. It signed a deal with Artnet.com to sell fine art via eBayPremier.com, which would broaden selection and boost customer confidence. The announcement comes on the heels of an allegedly fraudulent art auction on eBay, so that's good. The deal goes to the argument that there isn't enough junk in the world for eBay to sell: It doesn't just sell junk. It can sell anything -- while holding little inventory.
That's a business model that works.
Brian Lund suffers from Catholic guilt, so he feels bad about himself when he eats at McDonald's. Curiously, he passes Sunday mornings on his couch with The New York Times without even a twinge of regret. He owns shares of eBay in his wine-dark portfolio. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.